What, Exactly, is an “Engaged” Employee?
Engagement is one of the Holy Grails in business. Every organization seeks it in its workforce. Most company leaders can’t define it, but they know it when they see it…and they know it’s what’s missing when the business fails to reach its potential. Engaged employees are like fuel to company growth and those who aren’t make everything move in slow motion.
For an employee to become “engaged,” a company must address what I refer to as “The Three ‘Cs’.” They go like this.
Engagement emerges when an employee feels:
- Compelled–the business has a compelling future and the employee sees how his unique ability can contribute to its fulfillment. This is about shared vision and values.
- Clarity–leadership gives employees a clear understanding of the business model and strategy that will fulfill the company vision, what role he has in that plan and what’s expected of him in that role, and how he will be rewarded if he fulfills those expectations.
- Connection–the employee feels a sense of partnership with company owners. Whether or not equity is shared, he understands there is a philosophy about value creation and value sharing that is fair. As a result, all stake holders feel connected.
Well, if that’s what it takes to secure an engaged employee, what will the result look and “taste” like once it’s achieved? In my experience, companies that nurture engagement end up with employees that manifest that quality in each of three ways:
- Focus–more time is spent on the “best” results that can be achieved, not just good or better. There is an outcome rather than a task orientation that is evident. The employee “gets” what result the company is looking for and displays a sense of stewardship about it.
- Commitment–company leaders see that the employee has taken ownership of the future in a similar way that shareholders have. It is apparent that it is meaningful to him for the company to achieve its vision because he knows what it will mean to him personally.
- Shared Purpose–an engaged employee demonstrates a contribution ethic that extends beyond his specific role in the company. It is a manifestation of the shared purpose he has with co-workers, other teams or departments and with ownership. This means he behaves in a way that demonstrates his understanding of the interdependent nature of the independent roles throughout the organization. He understands that today he may depend on someone else, but tomorrow that same associate may depend on him to achieve a desired result in which all have a stake.
In my experience, companies that use compensation as the strategic tool it is intended to be see rewards as one means of smoothing and reinforcing the path to engagement. For example, they offer employees a long-term incentive plan that fosters the shared purpose indicated above. It’s payout metrics are tied to a combination of company-wide performance, team or department performance and individual performance. Such an approach nourishes a culture of contribution–because all have a financial stake that evokes a kind of “moral” bond with their associates. If I fail in my stewardship, it doesn’t just impact me and if you slow down, I am also affected.
Leadership, then, should examine its current practices through a kind of reverse engineering process. It starts by asking whether the workforce is currently, as a whole, manifesting outward signs of engagement (focus, commitment, shared purpose). If not, it should then ask what can be done to promote a compelling vision, create greater clarity and enable the sense of connection and partnership that are foundational to engagement. In the process, it should be sure to ask itself whether current compensation practices are more likely or less to promote the outcomes just discussed.
Is it realistic to anticipate a fully engaged workforce? It is. I’ve seen it first hand. For one example, see my blog entitled: “What a Competitive Advantage Sounds Like.” The concept is further developed in another blog posting entitled: “Compensation and Trust.” Finally, to learn how to get from an entitlement mentality to engagement, view our upcoming webinar entitled: “What to do When your Employees Act Entitled.”